Note this was written at the height of the Celtic Tiger economy. many of my comments are not relevant to how Ireland is today - but we revisited in 2012 so read that blog for the contrast:
I suppose most blogs start at the beginning of the holiday, and proceed in a logical fashion to the end, well for various reasons our holiday didn't go that way so I think this blog should be the same, so here goes
Entrances and Exits
One of the first thing we noticed in Ireland, during one of our earlier trips there, was the grand walls and entrances each bungalow or house in the countryside has. Three sides of a quarter acre plot might well be posts with some wire strung between them but at the front there will be an imposing wall, gate and gateposts. In Mayo this time we saw a house nearing the end of construction. It was made, as so many are, with blockwork but, lying in piles near impressive concrete foundations were 20 tons or so of fine dressed stone for the entrance wall. Why is this?
Our own entrance into Ireland was by way of the Holyhead to Dublin ferry route. Why is it that the two companies have ferries that leave within 10 minutes of each other at 02.30ish in the morning? Is it for companionship (sic) on the way across do you suppose? We went back home via Scotland, so that meant getting to Larne. We turned up the day before we were due to travel, and having spent 5 minutes exploring Larne, thought why not get over to Cairnryan today? There was a P&O ferry in, and they were loading, so we went to the drive through check-in and they said the sailing was now closed and sent us to the terminal building. Yes, we could get on the next ferry, but it would be an additional £46.50, the original cost was £98 so thats a 50% surcharge, we said no thanks. Does anyone wonder, or know, what the extra £46.50 was for?
Getting back to entrances, Mayo has some very quiet roads, we now know why, all the traffic is endlessly circulating Ballina, Westport and Castlebar looking for somewhere to park. In Ballina we got lucky, in Westport we were between sites so we had the trailer in tow and couldn't find a big enough place to get into. After progressing at a snails pace around Castlebar we were thwarted by the main supermarket car park having a height barrier. In Trim (Co Meath) they have surrounded one of the supermarkets with road works. Those in the know go around the town three times, then dive into the back of what turns out to be a garage, across the forecourt, part of the roadworks and into the supermarket. Worst was to come in Sligo Town though, in we popped and found a carpark. It had height barriers, but they were open and there was a motorhome inside so under the watchful eye of a traffic warden we parked up and bought a ticket. Two hours later we returned to find the first motorhome gone, another motorhome parked by us and the height barriers locked in place. What to do? No number to ring nor any explanation, its now lunchtime and raining so no traffic warden/parking attendant. Whilst we ate our lunch whilst still imprisoned, the owners of the other van returned. They were from the next county and although not on their own turf knew enough to go bellowing at a steel plated gate, which led off from the carpark. This brought a young lad, with two impressive bunches of keys and a crate to stand on, from what turned out to be the rear end of a nightclub. Apparently when they are expecting a drinks delivery they leave the height barriers in the car park open. You have to ask what was the original traffic warden thinking of? There has to be a reason for all these barriers and that links neatly into the next topic.
As you go into Sligo town there is a carpark with barriers, that is fully, and permanently, occupied with travellers. That has to be an oxymoron, as the one thing they don't do is travel. In Doagh famine village (Donegal) there is an exhibit about travellers. It's fairly even handed about them, but one point that struck home is that due to the changing nature of the world, eg we don't want our pots and pans mended, and due to passing of various laws, it is more difficult to keep travelling and many just fall into the poverty trap and end up living on state handouts. Indeed, to continue with the travelling life you have to be fairly well off. So something else in common with motorhome owners then.
Up to this point our experience of travellers was limited and at a distance but it was about to get a lot closer. We went to Belfast. Someone on MHF has booked the Dundonald Site at the Ice Bowl for Christmas and the New Year and I said I would review it.
Got to the site, it looked nice and there was plenty of room but a permanent notice said that you have to go to the reception of the icebowl first. It was Sunday afternoon and we had seen that the icebowl carpark was hectic and I had a trailer behind me. So we dropped off the trailer at the campsite did a U turn and got back to reception. "Sorry sir we aren't 'allowing' anyone to camp there". "But its only for one night" I said, thinking it must be the end of the season. She got the duty manager, he was very careful not to say 'travellers' but he said that, they were trying to remove people from the site. "Sir believe me, you don't want to be there." I ran, yes me, back to the van, burnt rubber getting it back to where I left the trailer, expecting at the very least for it to be without wheels. Of course it was where I left it, no problem, I guess I over reacted a tad, but you know what people say about travellers.
We went to The Six Mile Water site at Antrim and booked in, a lovely site, see my review. There were a number of new smart and large caravans. Some were twin axle Hobbys but even with our earlier experiences it didn't click, until I saw a 47Kg propane cylinder, that we were amongst travellers. Their cars were 06/07 registered, amongst them a soft top Audi A4 and a Nissan Navaro. After a day, three of them had moved on, which just left the two Hobbys. They were polite, cheerful, said hello etc, their children roamed freely but were exceptionally well behaved, in short no bother to anyone and they obviously paid their way. The only antisocial behaviour I saw, and here I am clutching at straws, is that once we saw a puppy do a poo and no one cleaned up after it as far as I could see and one of the ladies went into the laundry room smoking. Hardly rates on the Richter scale does it?
A neighbour on the site conferred with us on the subject, they were from Norfolk and said that they get lots of Irish travellers for the horse racing. At one point she said "and you should see the loads of children" I mentally prepared myself for a moan "so very well behaved, all ages, they did exactly as their parents said"
I'm sure lots reading this will have their own negative experiences but I just think we need not to generalise, a thief is a thief, a polluter is a polluter, a traveller is a traveller.
Immigration and emigration and ... roads
You'll find the Irish everywhere around the world, well at least their pubs are (We even saw one in Ushuaia at the southern tip of America). A lot of the emigration was of necessity given the great famine, where roughly a million died and another million emigrated. Remember this was only a 160 years ago. All Ireland hasn't yet recovered to its pre-famine population of 8 million, the population of the Republic in 2007 is still only roughly 4 million with about 1.6 million in the North . What is this doing in a motorhome blog, you may ask, well it has quite an impact.
Take the country roads, Ireland has a lot of them, many are below the standards we have come to expect in the western world. When they were built they supported a mainly rural population. In 1960 the population of the republic was only 2.6 million. There is alot of work going on, repairing and upgrading roads, building motorways especially now that their economy is doing so well. They can't just close all the roads at once and repair them. We visitors and the economy would soon resent that.
So for now we have to be careful driving about, just in case there is an unavoidable pothole around the next bend, lets face it, on a rural road in Mayo or Donegal that is more likely than meeting traffic - remember thats part of the reason we go there.
Judging from the number of 44 tonne lorries going on to quite minor routes they will have a job keeping up with the road repairs. This is linked to the economy and the growth in population, now that it passes 4 million. However its not all bad, they are opening up 24hr Tescos all over the place! Which means that perhaps in 20 or 30 years their high streets will be as culturally barren as ours are. So get over there and see it while it lasts.
One other population fact that we read is that Ireland needs 50,000 immigrants a year for the next 10 - 12 years just to support their economy at its present growth. So you will be welcome to move there, I would imagine. We also heard on the radio that 27% of housing is sitting there empty, either as holiday homes or as investment, so you shouldn't have difficulty finding a property.
One group that are arriving in great numbers are the Polish, so much so that all the supermarkets and quite a few smaller shops had Polish sections. One Tesco had two aisles given over to Polish food. A man came on the radio with a recognisably Irish accent, but an eastern European name, who said if you want a house built in Poland you have to use Indian labour. He may have been exaggerating, but you get his drift. Anyway looking for somewhere to park to go for a walk on The Mullet peninsula we approached a man going to a part finished house, he was the only building worker we spoke to on our trip and he was Polish, so from our sample 100% of building workers in Ireland are Polish. Another point was I didn't hear or read in the papers any resentment of this influx during our month there.
An historical progression
Thanks to the wonderful hospitality of some MHF members and Doreen returning to UK for a day, our trip wasn't the orderly progression clockwise from Mayo to Antrim, that we had envisaged. Although we zigged and zagged about the place, we seem to have visted some of the historic sites in chronological order.
Early on we went to Newgrange in Meath on the Boyne where the Neolithic passage tomb chamber (perhaps 5000 years old) admits light into its centre near dawn on the winter solstice. There is a visitor centre and other neolithic sites to visit. Then there was the Anglo-Norman castle of Trim, the largest in the country, which was also in Meath (used in the film Braveheart as both the Tower of London and the city walls of York) and which was constructed in the late 12th century.
Newgrange - Trim Castle
Later on when we reached Rathmullen in Donegal we found out about the 'Flight of the Earls' this happened in 1607 when the chieftains of some of the leading Gaelic families of Ulster, incuding the O'Donnells and the O'Neills fled the country. This allowed the English government more easily to sieze their land and start the plantations which were sold to English Protestants and Scottish Presbyterians.
The famine village of Doagh in Donegal gave us an insight into aspects of Irish rural life including the famine, wakes, travellers but also covered Orange Halls and IRA safe houses - we thoroughly recommend a visit to that and to the other historical sites we've mentioned. To bring us right up to date we did drive through the republican and unionist heartlands in Belfast and (London)Derry. It still felt a little scary to me driving through the peaceline and seeing armoured police landrovers. We didn't realise that the British Army only finished operations in NI in July of this year.
Famine Village Donegal - Derry/Londonderry
Near the end we also visited the Giant's Causeway in Antrim. Ah! you say that must be out of sequence. Well we have a theory. When such famine relief as was provided in the form of soup kitchens had been going for a while, they found, as they do in modern famine situations that people just cluster around the food handouts. Without anything else to do they drop into a dependancy which leads to decline. So the compassionate Government gave them something to do and it was to build walls.
Over some part's of Ireland these redundant walls stretch for miles. What I reckon happened, is that some clever Victorian person said if they can make walls, they can certainly make tourist attractions, which were just coming into vogue. Its not as if they would have to carry the rocks, just split them on site to resemble hexagons. I put this to an Ulsterman who had a dog and was thus reliable. He agreed and pointed out the ones you can't get access to are probably recent additions made of polystyrene. Trust me I'm an engineer.
We were ripped off (its my blog and I'll rant if I want to), by the car parking at the Giant's Causeway. All you pay to visit the Giant's Causeway is the parking fee. Car owners, even with fully occupied 7 seater SUVs that overfilled the parking slots were charged £5. Tiny motor caravans like ours and CaGreg's were charged £7.50! Moyle District Council operate the car park and an email has already gone off to them. There are cheaper options. The steam railway nearby charges £3 for all day parking. The hotel is free assuming you go for a meal or drink. You could also park for free in Bushmills and go there on the steam train (Rant over).
Our actual trip
I have to confess that when I read a blog I get a map out and follow their progress, so for sad kindred spirits a potted tour.
Each entry shows the name of the county and place, type of camp plus number of days (1), and any highlight. For more detail of places and themes marked with a * try googling (especially google images) and also check out the entries in the MHF campsite database
Meath near Trim at friends house (2). Trim* Castle and Newgrange*
Sligo Lough Arrow campsite (1)
Mayo Ballina campsite (2). Mayo coast and Lough Conn*
Mayo BlackSod* wild camp (1). Mayo Sculpture trail*
Mayo Downpatrick head wild camp (1) Met Joe Gough* photographer
Three Mayo headlands: Downpatrick Black Sod Ballyglass
Sligo Strandhill campsite (1). Beach Bar at Augris Head*
Sligo near Sligo City in friends garden (2). Cat and Moon* Sligo, Lough Gill boat trip with George*
Mayo near Louisburgh wildcamp with friends (3), Mayos surfing beaches, campfires.
Three Beach Bums
Beaches Dogs and Cows
Roscommon Lough Key campsite (2). Boyle* Carrick on Shannon* L Key Forest park*
Donegal Crolly campsite (3).Leo's tavern* home of Clannad and Enya, Glenveagh*, The Rosses*, Malin Beg* (I could go on)
Donegal Portsalon campsite (2). Fanad Head
Donegal Malin head* wildcamp (1). Doagh Famine Village*
Pointing To Scotland or was it America?
Antrim Ballycastle campsite (3). A lot of Tullamore Dew with friends, Rathlin Island*, Carrickarede rope bridge*, Giants Causeway*
Antrim Lough Neagh campsite(2). River walks to Antrim Town
Antrim Larne campsite (1)
Ayr Prestwick campsite (2) (to visit relations)
Glasgow Stepps campsite (1) (to visit relations)
Best bit, difficult to say; sitting round a fire on a beach in Mayo? Walking around Rathlin Island? On a boat in Loch Gill? Waking up on Malin head? Even with touring around we left some big gaps, particularly in Sligo and Donegal. Never mind we will be back. Our thanks to CaGreg, Wobby, Aido and LPDrifter and to the Irish generally for their hospitality and help, which made this such a great trip. Just before we went there was that attack on a couple in a motorhome. That didn't constrain us with our wild camping in the republic but having a trailer did. It was nice to be able to leave it in a campsite, but with two dogs (sometimes two very wet dogs) a small van and five weeks it would have been very difficult to manage without it.
Did we have any other problems? Well we got a slow puncture in a front tyre which we noticed on a Sunday when up on ramps at the wild camp near Louisburgh. We resolved to get some more air in the tyre to see how bad it was. We set off for Westport but we had been told about a garage on a back road in Louisburgh and went there first. A few minutes after finding the small garage and only 7 euros later the screw was removed and the puncture repaired. In thanking the guy and tipping him we said how lucky we were to find him. He said we wouldn't have got it done in Westport
"Sure those Westport men wouldn't turn out for youse on a Sunday if you were nailed to a cross"